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Events, pent-up demand pushing hotel bookings past pre-COVID levels

In one week’s time, one of the largest music festivals in New Brunswick will descend upon Saint John.

The Area 506 Festival is making its long-awaited debut at the Area 506 Waterfront Container Village, which opened in June.

“I think we’re all very, very excited, you know, it’s been a long time coming. It’s been three years since we had our proper Area 506 Festival the way that we originally designed it,” said Ray Gracewood, the founder of Area 506.

“I think compounded with the waterfront container village opening last month and how exciting and how well received that’s been, this just feels like an amazing extension of what we’ve been doing since early June.”

Typically, Gracewood said, the last week ahead of the festival is the busiest period for ticket sales. However, sales are already trending to levels never seen before for the multi-day event.

This is just the latest of lively events to hit the Saint John Region after hosting the 2022 Memorial Cup and welcoming the return of cruise ships.

Increasing foot traffic is at the center of booming hotel bookings reaching levels not expected for many years.

“We are outpacing 2019 occupancy levels and pre-pandemic, and we anticipated that would not happen until 2024,” said Paulette Hicks, the CEO of Envision Saint John: The Regional Growth Agency.

According to Smith Travel Research, the occupancy rate in Saint John in June was 71.3 per cent — a 160.2 per cent increase compared to the year prior.

“From a visitation perspective, we have seen a significant lift with major events, sports tourism and visitors coming back to the region, and certainly saw that again in May and in June,” Hicks added.

Success in the hospitality sector has not been isolated to Saint John, with communities across the Maritimes reporting that visitors have returned in droves.

In Halifax, the combination of lifted restrictions and peak tourism season has helped operators begin to recoup the more than $260 Million lost in revenue.

Ross Jefferson, the president and CEO of Discover Halifax, said bookings are now exceeding pre-COVID levels, with visitation numbers last month “15 per cent higher” than any other year – a record high for the region.

“Traditionally we’d be around 85 to 90 per cent occupancy, we’re in the 90 per cent occupancy, and depending on the day of the week we’re exceeding that. There’s still availability for those that are interested in coming in, but it is tight – especially for some of those weekends where the big events are going on,” Jefferson stated.

Gracewood said they’re thrilled to be able to play a role in navigating to a post-pandemic resurgence “with a little bit of swagger,” saying the region is ready for it.

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